Do you have someone in your life who acts towards you in a toxic way? Does being in the presence of a family member or colleague cause you pain or make your blood boil? Do you feel stuck because you can’t change them? Is there anything you can do?

The sage Rabbi Meir had violent neighbors who caused him tremendous anguish. He was at his wits end from the torment, so he prayed to G‑d that they should die.1

His wife, Beruriah, a scholarly woman quoted in the Talmud, overheard his prayer and interjected.

“Is the basis of your prayers the verse in Psalms2 where King David says, ‘Sinners will be destroyed from the earth and the wicked will be no more’?” she asked him. “My husband, the verse doesn’t need to be read to say sinners will be destroyed, but the sins. Rather than praying for the people who sinned to be destroyed, pray to G‑d that their wickedness should disappear. Then you will see, as King David continues, And the wicked will be no more.’ It is not due to death, but transformation.”

Rabbi Meir heard his wife’s wise words and took heed, praying to G‑d that the neighbors’ evil ways should stop. G‑d heard his prayers, and his formerly violent neighbors became righteous.

The distinction between Rabbi Meir’s original prayer and his subsequent one is profound. It separates the person, who is—in essence—good, from the temporary evil that he or she may be engaging in at the moment.

The holy Tanya teaches that one is required to love sinners, even while hating the evil that is in them. “And both the love and the hatred are truthful emotions in this case, [since] the hatred is on account of the evil within them, while the love is on account of the good hidden in them, which is the Divine spark within them that animates their Divine soul. For this spark of G‑dliness is present even in the most wicked of one’s fellow Jews; it is merely hidden.”3

This is not to say that we justify evil, the same way we wouldn’t call non-kosher meat kosher. But if a Jew was selling non-kosher meat, we would call the meat bad, not the butcher.4

This belief in a person’s inherent goodness and innate desire to fulfill G‑d’s will is a powerful spiritual tool we can all access.

So if you do find yourself interacting with people whose circumstances leave much to be desired, pray for them. Pray to G‑d to remove the circumstances causing their negativity. Pray for the sin to be removed, not the sinner. Pray that this person reveal his or her internal goodness and be transformed, so that they no longer show up behaving in a toxic manner towards you.

May G‑d answer your prayers.

Soul Note: If someone is hurting you, they are spiritually ill. Pray for them!